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From her day job, to participating in century rides, to her daily bike commuting, Amy Harcourt lives and breathes bicycling. After moving to San Francisco from the Midwest several years ago, Amy decided to turn her passion into her profession and switched from corporate marketing to corporate bike sharing. Along with Kurt Wallace Martin, she started Bikes Make Life Better, “the first business-to-business consulting firm dedicated entirely to helping organizations use bicycles to achieve core business objectives.”  How can bicycles help meet “core business objectives,” you ask? Well, fortunately for you, so did I. Read Amy’s response to that question and many more below.

Matt Christensen: What inspired your career shift from marketing to bike fleet consulting? 

Amy Harcourt: When my partner and I moved to San Francisco, the city was making big improvements to its bike infrastructure. Both of us are passionate cyclists and thought: wouldn’t it be great to help more people choose bikes for daily transportation, just like we had.

We both have decades of consulting experience, working with high-tech start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. It made sense to consult with big business since we understand how they operate and their key drivers. Large companies invest in bike programs not because they love bikes (like we do) but because they like what bikes can do to impact core business objectives in areas like transportation, sustainability and wellness.

MC: What exactly is your role as a B2B bike fleet consultant? 

AH: We work with companies on any and all aspects of their bike program. We create what we call bike ecosystems where bikes are an integral part of the landscape. Bike fleets are a big part of this ecosystem.

As consultants, we start with a “needs assessment” that leads to a recommendation report for launching, improving and operating a successful company fleet. This includes recommendations on the type of fleet, bikes, fleet size, accessories, bike parking, reservation and security system, maintenance and rebalancing plan, and liability and risk mitigation plan. The report includes a complete budget and guidelines for implementation. A company can then run with it on its own or hire us to manage it for them. In addition to company bikes to get around during the day, we also plan and implement fleets of loaner and fitness bikes.

MC: What does operations for a standard corporate bike fleet look like? Who is usually in charge of bike maintenance and redistribution? 

AH: Every program is different, based on the size of the fleet and the needs of the company. Some manage bike maintenance and redistribution with their own staff while others contract for these services. Smaller fleets can be maintained by mobile mechanics while larger fleets require daily, on-site staff.

MC: What types of bike share technology works most appropriately for your clients’ systems? Do you ever recommend station-based systems for clients or is it more of the smart-bike/public bike (painted bikes with no locks) landscape? 

AH: For the most part, corporate bike share has been standard bikes (many are custom-branded) that are either grab-and-go with no locks or restrictions, or secured and checked out for use. Genentech uses a 3rd generation, station-based system, but that’s pretty rare. Typically these systems are too costly for a corporate bike fleet. There’s a lot of exciting work happening on the 4th generation, smart-bike front that we believe will become the standard for corporate fleets, especially if the technology is nimble enough to work on many types of bikes.

MC: What type of environmental circumstances tend to work best for corporate bike share fleets? 

AH: A need for alternative transportation is a big one. Many companies have large and growing campuses where getting from building to building takes a lot of time. In some cases employees drive or wait for a company shuttle. That’s really inefficient. As you know, bikes are a faster, more predictable way to get to your next meeting. And, they’re fun!

MC: What types of companies have been the first adopters of corporate bike fleets? 

AH: Very large companies as well as highly innovative ones. The earliest adopters were tech companies, but now we’re seeing corporate bike fleets across the board.

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MC: Do you look at ideological values of companies when looking for new business?

AH: Someone once asked me “How do you convince a company that this is a good idea?” I replied: “We don’t!” Our company credo begins with: “We embrace organizations with an appetite for the long view.” We look for companies that already see the value of having robust transportation, sustainability and wellness programs and who understand that bikes are important part of those programs.

MC: What are the biggest barriers to businesses bringing in bikes?

AH: There are fewer and fewer barriers these days. Legal and Risk Management are often concerned and provide some push-back. But we address this with a best practices report and specific recommendations that overcome their concerns.

MC: Can you describe how the bicycle can “solve complex business issues”?

AH: It’s funny, isn’t it, that something as simple as a bike can help solve complex problems? Bikes are healthy sustainable transportation. When employees ride them, they help solve pressing issues around transportation, the environment and healthcare. They also help companies with marketing, PR, and recruitment.

A lot of companies feel the pressure to reduce single-occupancy vehicle use. They’re growing and they have nowhere for employees to park. The average parking space in a paved lot costs $4,000 to build and the average space in a parking structure is $20,000-40,000 (above-grade and below-grade). You can store 10 bikes in a single parking space. If employees ride bikes to move around during the day, they save precious time and the cost of expensive company shuttles.

The average person will lose 13 pounds in their first year of bike commuting. Healthier employees have lower rates of absenteeism, turnover, insurance premiums and claims. They also tend to be more productive and higher performers.

MC: What sorts of projects are you working on right now?

AH: We’re doing a lot of work to plan, launch and support company bike share fleets. BrandingBikesFeasibility studies, risk mitigation plans, bike share recommendation reports and custom designs that evolve into the launch of new fleets. Some of these fleets are custom-branded, like these (see photo on the right) we just did for Kaiser IT and Mozilla Firefox.

MC: Have you heard of the Bitlock? Do you see that or any other type of technology working particularly well for corporate bike share fleets?

AH: It’s exciting to see so much innovation in this space. There have been a number of bike-related Kickstarter campaigns, including Bitlock and Lock8. There’s also the Open Bike Initiative, started by a group of volunteers at Intel. Their plan is to open source their smart bike code, opening the market for more affordable development of 4th generation bike share technology. We find this solution very exciting.

MC: Has anything surprised you about the industry since you began with Bikes Make Life Better? 

AH: When we came up with the idea for Bikes Make Life Better three years ago, we were prepared to be proven wrong. We weren’t sure if companies were ready to focus on, and invest in, bike programs. But we learned right away that they were. Today, bike programs, especially company bike share, is more the norm than the exception. And not just in tech or the San Francisco Bay Area, but in traditional businesses across the country. We believe the growth in municipal bike share in the US (and around the world) has played an important role in this trend.

MC: Is there anything exciting on the horizon in terms technology that you can disclose?

AH: The most exciting development on the horizon is GPS and locking technology on the bikes – or what we call 4th generation bike share or smart-bike technology. When this develops further, it opens up the opportunity to create corporate bike share programs that offer more services to more riders.

MC: Are there any big success stories to point to?

AH: Any company that invests in a bike program is a big success. So there are many stories. But one that’s particularly noteworthy is Facebook. They’ve made a major commitment to their bike program, including a company bike fleet to get around their campus; a loaner bike fleet to help with bike commuting; and a fitness bike fleet for recreation and sport rides. We also designed and run an on-campus bike shop with full-service bike repair, DIY and bike kitchen, classes, rides and events. All of it to help more employees ride bikes.

I’d like to extend a special thanks to Amy Harcourt for such a thorough and interesting interview. Follow this link to read more interviews with bike share visionaries and check back in the coming weeks to see editorial work from Ms. Harcourt herself.